Another reversal of the 9th Circuit, and we are only two weeks into the current term of the Supreme Court. The Justices have already reversed five cases. The Glebe decision is per curiam by all members of the Supreme Court.
The defendant Frost began a series of robberies eleven your ago along with other men. At the trial he admitted participation in the robberies. Tried and convicted of the robberies and other related crimes, he appealed to the Washington Supreme Court who affirmed the conviction. Frost filed a habeas petition in federal court and was denied. On appeal to the 9th Circuit; the panel affirmed the order but on en banc hearing: reversed.
Frost claimed the trial judge would not let him argue failure of the trial court to allow him to argue the state did not establish corroboration of the accomplices who testified against him, and that he committed the robberies under duress. How you can argue the absence of corroborating witnesses to committing the crime and contend you were under duress is a good question.
According to the 9th Circuit, the trial court erred in failing to allow counsel to argue inconsistent defenses. On cert., the Supreme Court did not address this question because the 9th Circuit en banc panel used their own precedent to determine whether AEDPA had been applied without any “clearly established” Supreme Court law as fully discussed in the recently decided Lopez case. The Supreme Court informed the 9th Circuit (again) it cannot rarely on its own precedents.
But the main issue revolved around the trial court decision whether refusing to allow inconsistent defenses constituted “structural error.” Most Constitutional errors warrant reversal only if the the error is harmless. Structural error “must infect the entire trial process and render it unfair.” In reviewing the trial record the Supreme Court concluded no infection of the entire trial process rendered it unfair, particularly when testified to his commission of the crimes (but under duress).